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Malibu Rising

by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2021

This was the last book selection for the “Take Me Away” summer book club at the Old Town Library. I don’t know what to think. It was a good story but too much gratuitous sex and drugs. It just didn’t need all that garbage. Four children of a famous singer grow up without him. Their mother dies by drowning in a bathtub in a drunken stupor. The oldest sister takes care of her three younger siblings, sacrificing her life for them. They are all talented and beautiful. The oldest sister marries a tennis pro, he leaves her for another tennis pro, then he comes back on the night of the annual party. The party is attended by all the famous people and they are disgusting animals. The kids’ Dad shows up at midnight and they are all down on the beach having a heart-to-heart while the 200 guests are destroying the place. When all is said and done, the house burns down and the kids and their Dad move on with a new understanding.

A good tale, but really became trash because of the unneeded and unwanted details of people having sex and doing drugs. Yucch!

On the Road

by Jack Kerouac, 1957

I decided to read this book after Geoff Dyer wrote about it in The Last Days of Roger Federer. I’m glad I read it. It describes road trips across 1940s America twice, and then one down to Mexico. The main characters are Sal Paradise and his dear friend, Dean Moriarty. Dean grew up on the streets of Denver, homeless, with a hobo father. He never saw his mom’s face. He loves women and speed. Kerouac doesn’t mention Dean taking any speed, but everything Dean does is fast to a manic degree – driving, working as a parking lot attendant, talking, etc. When the book begins, he has a beautiful girlfriend, Marylou, and a wife in San Francisco, Camille. By the end of the book, he has a wife and two daughters by Camille and a wife, Inez, and baby in New York. He can’t stay true to anyone. He is searching for IT (God) and thinks he finds it through new experiences, new women, new everything.

Jack Kerouac took notes while on road trips in the 1940s. Carlo Marx (a very strange dude who liked to sit cross-legged in front of Dean and they would talk nonsense to each other all night long) in the book is Allen Ginsberg in real life. Dean Moriarty in the book is Neal Cassady in real life. In the 1950s, Kerouac, using his notebooks, typed up the book in 3 weeks on sheets of tracing paper which he had taped together. It has become a classic. He started the Beat Generation. In the book, he talks about beat this and beat that, and it seems like he means things or people who are used up, downtrodden, at the end of their ropes. Not sure how this became the Beat Generation.

There is a tragic, sad feeling to the book. Dean is always searching, searching, searching. People fall in love with him and he loves people, but he can’t settle down. He uses them and abandons them and comes back to them and leaves them again. Sal is his good friend and does not judge him and kind of acts the same way a little bit, but in the end, he finds his Laura and settles down, while Dean’s life, you feel, is going to end tragically.

Red Notice

by Bill Browder, 2015

Eye-opening book about Russia. It details Bill Browder’s experience as a hedge fund manager starting soon after communism fell through his battle for justice for his lawyer, Sergie Magnitsky, who was tortured to death in a Russian prison. Bill fought and fought and fought to keep the truth in the forefront, while Putin and cronies did everything they could to prevent the passage of the Magnitsky Act. The lies and the evil they concoct are never-ending. I had a feeling the Russian government was bad but this reveals just how bad. When the Magnitsky Act finally passed in 2012, Putin had to retaliate. He eventually banned Americans from adopting Russian children – many of whom were already adopted and ready to be picked up – many of whom were in need of medical care they could get only in America.

When Bill Browder started his hedge fund in Russia in 1996, Boris Yeltsin was the leader. When Putin first came to power (in 2000), Putin was on the same side as Bill Brower, who by then was starting to discover corruption in Russia and exposing it. But a few years later, Putin became his adversary because Putin was in on the corruption.

Tell Everyone on This Train I Love Them

by Maeve Higgins, 2022

I learned a lot from this book. For example, Ireland has been blowing up monuments (to British men) for centuries. If our Black Americans blew up the monuments to slavery, the outcry would never end. Maeve was welcomed to America from Ireland because she is white and young and European. The brown people trying to come to America through our southern borders are not welcome. What’s worse, they (Mexicans) were here first.

I love Maeve Higgins! She is SO funny on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Her voice is so appealing, so sweet, and I wish she was on that show every week. This book was not funny, though. She definitely has a serious side and cares deeply about the poor and downtrodden and also our planet. She covers major issues: Racism towards Blacks, Racism towards Mexicans/Hispanics/Latinos, and climate change. When Bush was president in the early 2000s, a Republican strategist named Frank Luntz told him to stop saying ‘global warming’ and to say ‘climate change’ instead, and also to raise doubts about the science itself. So, 20 years later we have done basically nothing to prevent the earth from warming further. In 2017, Luntz’s home in LA almost burned down in a wildfire. He said to the Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, “Just stop using something that I wrote 18 years ago, because it’s not accurate today.”

The last pages of the book tell the story of a hero on a train in Portland who dies protecting two girls from a deranged person with a knife. His last words were, “Tell everyone on this train I love them.” So Christ-like! I appreciate her perspective and learned a lot from her.

The Last Days of Roger Federer And Other Endings

by Geoff Dyer, 2022

I finished it! It’s not what I expected. He has never met Roger and Roger is barely mentioned in this book. He loves tennis and he loves Roger, but this book is mostly about dead, or nearly dead, poets, artists, writers, and musicians, and their last works. I have not read most of the books he wrote about, nor listened to most of the music he wrote about. This book is beautifully written but the only parts I liked were when he talked about himself, his tennis injuries, and tennis in general. He is a critic and I am not into the things he is critiquing, except for himself and tennis.

A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century

by Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, 2021

I asked neighbor, Nate, what book he was reading currently and he said this one. It sounded intriguing so I checked it out from the library. I scanned it–didn’t read it word-for-word. Their premise is that our modern lives are the opposite of healthy lives. I like what the jacket sleeve says: “We are living through the most prosperous age in all of human history, yet we are listless, divided, and miserable. Wealth and comfort are unparalleled, but our political landscape is unmoored, and rates of suicide, loneliness, and chronic illness continue to skyrocket. How do we explain the gap between these truths? And how should we respond?

“For evolutionary biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, the cause of our troubles is clear: the accelerating rate of change in the modern world has outstripped the capacity of our brains and bodies to adapt. We evolved to live in clans, but today many people don’t even know their neighbors’ names. In our haste to discard outdated gender roles, we increasingly deny the flesh-and-blood realities of sex–and its ancient roots. The cognitive dissonance spawned by trying to live in a society we are not built for is killing us.”

White Sands

by Geoff Dyer, 2016

This is the second book I have read by this author. I learned about him when Christie let me know about his newest book, The Last Days of Roger Federer. The first book I read of his was Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It. That book was funny and very, very enjoyable. This one was good, but not humorous. I missed his humor. He is with his wife during most of this book. He calls her Jessica in the book, but her name is Rebecca. The book is about places he visited that are famous and may impart meaningful emotional experiences while there. Most of them seemed a huge let-down.

Hana Khan Carries On

by Uzma Jalaluddin, 2021

Enjoyable book. This is the first selection for the summer Old Town Library Take Me Away book club – selected by our leader, Librarian Meg Schiel. The characters are very endearing. I like that it was set in Toronto, in a Muslim area called the Golden Crescent. The main character is Hana Khan, a 24 year-old Muslim girl, daughter of beloved parents who immigrated from India. Her mother runs a restaurant called Three Sisters. Hana works there but dreams of being a radio station host. She has her own podcast and a mysterious, funny, wise man named StanleyP posts witty on-line comments after each podcast. They have quite the on-line relationship. Then, a young man (Aydin Shah) and his father come to the neighborhood to open a new restaurant and try to put Three Sisters out of business. Hana does her best to try and ruin their business before they can open it. She fails and learns lessons along the way about family secrets, dreams, racism.

Her family includes a beloved father (Baba) who is injured and can no longer work so stays home and does jigsaw puzzles and blesses his family with his loving presence. Hana’s sister, Fazeela, is pregnant with the “cantaloupe” and married to a wonderful man, Fahim, who loves her dearly. They help run the restaurant. Then, a cousin (Rashid) and an Aunt (Kawkab Khala) come for a visit from India and end up saving the day. There are white supremacists who spread hatred, trouble and fear, but in the end, they conquer them with love, joy, and humor. During the annual street festival, Aydin hires some talented dancers and musicians to entertain the crowd. The white supremacists are protesting, becoming more and more threatening. The entertainers play loud music with a good beat and their talented dancing, along with Aydin’s funny and goofy dancing, overcome their attempts to ruin the festival with their hatred and ugliness. By this time, Hana and Aydin have admitted to one another that they are in love. And, it turns out, StanleyP and Aydin are one and the same person! Nice, happy fairy-tale ending. Enjoyed this book.

Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It

by Geoff Dyer, 2003

What a writer! I learned about him from Christie, who sent me info on his newest book, The Last Days of Roger Federer. It wasn’t yet available at our library so I checked out this book by him. I enjoyed it immensely. He’s funny and it took me all over the world with him – a funny and intelligent British man who loves women. He started out in New Orleans and I didn’t really like the details he provided of a brief affair with a black woman named Angela. From there, we went to places in Cambodia with he and his girlfriend, Circle. They are mostly on a boat ride with a bunch of other tourists and it is hot! Then on to a resort in Bali, the streets of Paris, Rome, Miami, and then Amsterdam. Then, to Leptis Magna, ruins in Libya, all by himself. Then to moderns ruins in Detroit, still by himself. The last story takes place at Burning Man in the desert.

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park

by Conor Knighton, 2020

Really fun, and funny, memoir by Conor Knighton on the year he took to visit all 59 National Parks. He started on January 1 in Acadia to watch the sun rise, and he ended at Point Reyes National Seashore to watch the sun set on December 31, 2016. He is trying to recover from a broken heart – his fiance jilted him just a few months before their wedding day, and then she goes and marries someone else just 4 months later. Heartbreak. He takes us along for the journey as he slowly recovers, forgives, and finds himself and a new hope for the future. He is a journalist for CBS Sunday Morning and they agreed to foot the bill for most of the journey. It’s a delight to read. He’s funny and the information he gives along the way is so personal, you feel like you are there with him, through each park and on the road, or plane, or boat to get to each one. Really enjoyed this book! It was a recommendation from the Library’s monthly memoir/biography email.

I Am Malala

by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick, Young Readers Edition, 2014

We thought about getting this book for Isabel, but after reading it, decided against it. Malala is brave and her story is amazing, but the book makes one despise Muslims because of the ignorance and evil of the Taliban. There is no doubt that God’s hand is on Malala. She miraculously survived being shot in the head point-blank. Her dramatic story demonstrates unequivocally the evil of the Taliban. She prayed to God that she would be able to help her country and through this miraculous story, she certainly has. She now has a foundation, malalafund.org, that supports education efforts around the world.

American Spy

by Lauren Wilkinson, 2018

This was the last book selection for the Old Town Library Book Club 2021-2022 year. It was Jennifer’s selection. She is the one who so disliked Deacon King Kong, which was a most enjoyable, excellent book. She is the one who selected the book, Pachinko, a few years back, which I hated. I’ve learned that Jennifer’s taste is completely different than mine. This book was monotonous; I was asleep after every other page, practically. There was no richness of character or plot. It touched the surface only. It was set in 1980’s and 1990’s in New York City, Martinique, and Burkina Faso. A young black girl works for the FBI, goes undercover in Burkina Faso, discovers she’s being used by two supposed CIA agents, who are undermining a good leader in Burkina Faso in order to get contracts in Africa to build military bases. The young Black woman is writing her story to her two young boys, twins, that are age 4. That was weird. She writes to them in case she dies so they will know their mom when they are older. But it makes the telling of the story weird because they are only 4 years old and the subject manner would not be appropriate until they are way, way old. I found two things that were thought-provoking: “But I do feel sometimes like I’ve been trapped in an absurdist’s fever dream, and that if I couldn’t find a way to see humor in our lives, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.” (There was no humor in this book, but I would like to look at the situations in my own life with more humor.) And, “Throughout my life, the most consistent way I’ve revealed who I really am is through whom I’ve chosen to love.”

This description of a place she stayed in Ghana (I think) was good:

“I arrived at Mole National Park in the late afternoon. My room had already been paid for, and the clerk gave me a key from one of the cubbyholes at his elbow. I crossed a grassy expanse in the direction of a row of two-story white bungalows, passing a dining room beneath a white roof with a series of peaks, like a child’s drawing of a wave. There was a pool deck beside it, the savanna and the sky beyond, and through the tall windows I could see tourists at the tables.”

I think she has potential. Every criticism that Jennifer said about Deacon King Kong, could be directed at this book. “I tried to like it.” “What was the point?” “There are so many characters!”

Gmorning, Gnight: little pep talks for me & you

by Lin-Manuel Miranda, illustrated by Jonny Sun, 2018

Sweet book with inspirational, short, loving messages for the morning and the night. They come from his tweets. He loves Twitter. Here’s an example:

“Gmorning.

‘You’ve had too many apps open for too long.

‘Close your eyes.

‘Check all systems.

‘Soft reboot.”

“Gnight.

‘Don’t wait until low power mode.

Close your eyes.

Close all unnecessary apps.

Recharge.”

Here’s another one:

“Good morning.

Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today.

Make, do, create the things.

Let others tussle it out.

Vamos!

“Good night.

Don’t let the world’s clickbait pull you off your path.

Unplug, explore, dream new terrain.

The world keeps spinning.

A dormir!” (which means to sleep)

Here’s another one:

“Good morning.

Keep busy while you wait for the miracle.”

“Good night.

Get some rest while you wait for the miracle.”

Inside Outside

by Herman Wouk, 1985

Another EXCELLENT book by Herman Wouk. This one is long, 644 pages, but engrossing. It is set mainly in New York City in the first half of the 1900’s. It’s about a boy, a Jewish boy, who is born in 1915 in Bronx, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrants. It tells the story of his life and I think it is partly autobiographical. I loved it because it made me feel like I was watching an old movie set in NYC. I loved the styles, the talk, the customs. I learned a lot about Jewishness and their customs. He was raised a practicing Jew, observing the Sabbath, studying the Talmud, observing all the other Jewish festivals. He falls away in his early adulthood when he falls head over heels in love with a “Grade A Showgirl,” named Bobbie Webb. But, he realizes through this tortured, passionate love affair, that he cannot leave his religion behind. He loves it. He loves his Dad, mostly, a very hard-working man who gives and loves and gives some more, and would do anything for his son, Israel David Goodkind. I just love Herman Wouk! He is such a fantastic writer! I need to read Youngblood Hawke someday because I think that one is the one that is most autobiographical.

The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer

by Christopher Clarey, 2021

A full-on immersive trip into the world and life of Roger Federer. There have been about 12 biographies on Roger Federer. This is probably the definitive one. It takes you in-depth from before Roger was born (which was on 8/8/1981) to shortly after his devastating loss to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final of 2019 (in which he had 2 championship points on his serve). I learned so much about Roger and he has definitely come down a notch or two in my eyes. Wayne bought this book. Roger is a tennis player’s tennis player and Wayne respects and admires his game so much. But, here’s what I learned:

  1. Roger was a little brat and a cry-baby. He smashed rackets and yelled and screamed and when he lost, he cried like a baby. His Dad was so ashamed of him, he wouldn’t let him ride home with him after an episode like that–he gave him bus fare home. Roger didn’t change his behavior until he saw himself on TV and was embarrassed. His parents also had him meet with a psychologist and they worked on things for awhile – it’s still a secret what exactly they worked on.
  2. Roger has an older sister, Diana, who also had identical twins. That is all that is mentioned about her in this book. I think there’s a story there.
  3. Roger and Mirka have two sets of identical twins.
  4. Never does he mention Roger having any faith in God. In fact, in one quote, Roger uses “Jesus” in a swearing sort of way. Maybe this explains why he has lost more close matches, while having match points, than either Rafael or Novak? He thinks it’s all up to him and has no one else to lean on? I don’t know.
  5. He started his Roger Federer Foundation early on, but only at the urging of his Mom. He chose education because he admired Agassi’s foundation. Both he and Agassi stopped school at age 16.
  6. He’s more about the money than I thought he was. The reason Nike didn’t renew their sponsorship of Roger in 2018 was because he wanted too much. Nike only allows 10% of gross for athletic sponsorship and Roger’s demands would have broken that, because they also had Rafael, Serena, Nick, Sharapova, Amanda, and a few others.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, 2015

This is the true story of a young boy, William Kamkwamba, who was born in 1987 in a tiny village near Wimbe, Malawi. He is enthralled with science and just wants to go to school and learn about science. He is the only boy with 6 sisters. His Mother and Father are subsistence farmers. They grow Maize, which Malawians eat at every meal in a dish called nsima. When he is an adolescent, a terrible famine comes due to a new (bad) government that did not provide farmers with any fertilizer followed by a drought. It is horrible and painful to read. I’ve never felt so deeply the acute need, and our ability to help and wanting to help someone so badly. All they needed was a little food, a little money for fertilizer, a little help – just like Lazarus under the table of the rich man begging for just a crumb. And here we have so much – excess – everywhere in this country.

Everyone is slowly starving to death in Malawi, including William and his family. His has to watch his beloved doggie, Khamba, slowly starve to death – eventually he has to tie him to a tree and leave him. It’s heartbreaking! Miraculously, they survive, though, because they live long enough (20 more days!) to harvest their maize. William goes on to harness the wind! Even though he desperately wants to go to secondary school and learn about science, his father cannot afford to pay his fees so he is expelled. There is a tiny library in the elementary school near his village. When he is not working in the fields with his father, he studies books he finds in that little library. He learns all about electricity and decides to build his own windmill. He scavenges used parts from a junk yard near the school that expelled him. The school kids mock and jeer at him and call him crazy. He needs his Father’s broken bicycle to make a part of the windmill and his Father is very reluctant to give it to him but William convinces him to do so. His friend, Gilbert, helps him when no one else believes in him. He provides the money for some items that William just can’t scavenge – the dynamo, some copper wire, etc. And lo and behold, William builds his windmill. He provides lights for his home and word gets around. Soon, a professor, Dr. Hartford Mchazime, visits and interviews William. He is impressed with his genius and has him apply to present at a TED conference. William is selected and his world changes as a result. He is able to tell his story, learn, and raise funds to make an even better windmill, then more windmills and help his village. He now runs a nonprofit called Moving Windmills Project. He rebuilt the schools in his area. He dug a borehole for water for his whole village. His father can now grow two crops per year and the storehouse will never be empty again.

Beautiful book, miraculous story!

Deacon King Kong

by James McBride, 2020

I LOVED this book! It was the Old Town Library Book Club selection for April 2022. Both Leslie and Mandy picked it. It took me someplace I didn’t want to be – a housing project, the Cause Houses, in NYC – complete with drug pushers, heroin addicts, alcoholics, and criminals. But the main characters, the alcoholic and the drug pusher, are so human, you soon love them and are rooting for them. Deacon King Kong (Sportcoat) is a 70 year-old black man who has been drinking since he was a teenager, when the dentistry school used him to experiment on and gave him whiskey to ease the pain. His beloved wife, Hettie, disappears one night – following the light of God – and her body is found in the harbor by an Italian criminal who runs everything but drugs, Tommy Elefante. Elefante is another intriguing and wonderful character in this book. Along with Potts, an honest NYC cop who is about to retire; Sister Gee, the pastor’s wife who is beautiful and wise; Bunch Moon, an odious drug lord; and Deems Clemens, the promising young baseball player turned drug pusher, whom Sportcoat walks up to and shoots one day in 1969. He doesn’t kill him, just mangles his ear real bad. How everything turns out is a wonderful, wonderful tale. Thank you, James McBride – you are the best! You made ugly and hopeless be blessed and beautiful! Amazing! Thank you! God Bless YOU!

Don’t Stop the Carnival

by Herman Wouk, 1965

Herman Wouk lived on St. Thomas for 6 years while researching and writing books. A real-life New York press agent bought a hotel in the Virgin Islands and told the story of his many mishaps. Norman advised him to write a book, but the press agent “demurred.” However, he encouraged Norman to write the book, and that is how this book came about.

It’s the story of Norman Paperman, a Broadway press agent, who falls in love with a fictional Caribbean island, Amerigo, or Kinja, from how the islanders say “King George.” He buys a tropical hotel, the Gull Reef Club, and dreams of a blissful life with his beloved wife, on this island paradise. However, as soon as he buys the hotel, things go terribly wrong: He loses his number one bartender and manager, Thor, to the former owner (Amy Ball) who buys a boat and steals him away. He faces a water shortage, which is a major disaster. As soon as he manages to avert that crises by paying an exorbitant price for water, it rains and rains and rains. Then he loses another faithful employee, his gondola driver become bartender, because the employment laws of the island forbid him to work as a bartender. All the while, Norman, a happily married man whose wife will be joining him shortly, is falling head over heals in love with Iris Tramm, a former actress, living in one of the cottages of his hotel. They hit it off famously and she is a big help to him in all of his travails.

Madam, Will You Talk?

by Mary Stewart, 1955

Fun murder mystery set in the south of France. A young beautiful widow goes with her friend to Avignon. She gets involved with a boy and his dog. She ends up saving the day and marrying his father. It’s suspenseful and the settings are so well-described, you feel as if you are there. I just wish I could speak French so I would know how to pronounce all the words: Avignon, Les Baux, Marseilles, etc. There are lots fast cars (a Riley, a Bentley, and a Mercedes) racing along the roads in the south of France. It ends beautifully on the terrace of the Hotel de la Garde with sparkling sea and sparkling champagne and happiness for all the good guys.

Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author

by Herman Wouk, 2016

Short biography by Herman Wouk, the author of The Caine Mutiny, which was one of the best books I ever read. He wrote this short biography in 2016 and he died in 2019 at the age of 103 in Palm Springs, CA. As a youth, he loved Mark Twain, then Dumas. He wrote for the Fred Allen show for many years. He loved being a funny man, a “Gag Man.” Then WWII started and he wanted to join the Navy but they wouldn’t take him (because he was drafted by the Army?) until he got a letter from Fred Allen. He served in the Navy in the Pacific Ocean. That’s where he got the idea for The Caine Mutiny. When he landed after the war, he married the love of his life (he doesn’t tell how they met), Betty Sarah, and spent the rest of his life loving her and writing. They had 3 sons. The first, Abe, died tragically by drowning in a pool in Mexico at the age of 5. He can’t write about it except to say: “This fateful mischance, [From Here to Eternity coming out 2 weeks before The Caine Mutiny] with the arrival in the mansion of a second baby son, unnerved us; we put the mansion on the market and moved to Mexico to reduce expenses. There in a rented house in Cuernavaca, we lost our firstborn son, Abe. The “very lively baby,” grown to a sagacious little boy almost five, lovable and winsome beyond telling, drowned in the swimming pool. I have not written, nor will I, about this catastrophe, from which we never wholly recovered.”